The Wizard of Oz throws a dinner party, with the help of Jellia Jamb. Old friends gather to reminisce about old times: Dorothy Gale, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, the Cowardly Lion, and the Soldier with the Green Whiskers (in this book Thompson calls him Wantowin Battles) are all present. After dinner, the Wizard displays his latest invention: two gleaming silver aircraft he calls ozoplanes. Individually he has christened them the "Ozpril" and the "Oztober." The guests enthusiastically inspect the craft. (What could possibly go wrong?)
The Soldier with the Green Whiskers ate 29 pickles at dinner; he is suddenly seized with a violent cramp. He bangs into the control panel of the Oztober, hitting the up, south, fast, spin, spiral, zig, zag, slow, and circle buttons simultaneously. The Oztober zooms into the sky, headed for parts unknown, with the Soldier, the Tin Woodman, and Jellia Jamb aboard. The Wizard, surprised and appalled, takes the Ozpril is pursuit of the Oztober, accompanied by Dorothy, Lion, and Scarecrow.
Enduring a chaotic flight, the resourceful Tin Man eventually gets the craft under control; he decides to teach himself to fly it, and then return to the Emerald City. In the light of dawn he sights an unknown country in the sky, and lands the plane there. He enthusiatically but undiplomatically claims the place for Ozma. The country, however, has a name, and inhabitants, and a touchy, egotistical, and aggressive ruler. Stratovania is the domain of King Strutoovius the Seventh. (He calls himself "Strut of the Strat" for short.)
This monarch quickly decides to turn the tables and conquer Ozma and Oz. He holds the new arrivals prisoner — though his hostility is somewhat mollified by his affection for Jellia. He likes her smooth brown hair, so different from the upstanding "electric hair" of the Stratovanians. Strutoovius impulsively names Jellia his "starina" — a pun on "tsarina." (Similar puns follow: Jellia is addressed as "your Skyness" and "your Stratjesty.")
Despite his yen for Jellia, Strutoovius assembles his army of Blowmen and forces the Tin Man to pilot the ozoplane back to the Emerald City, showing them the way. Jellia and Wantowin, left behind, look for ways to counter this threatened invasion of Oz. Jellia tries to use her influence as starina — but faces opposition from Strut's existing queen, Kabebe. Jellia and Wantowin are in danger of being thrown off the edge of Stratovania, when the Wizard and company arrive in the Ozpril. But the plane is blown up by Blowmen, and the Ozians have to leap over the edge of the Strat to save themselves.
The Wizard uses the magic in his "kit-bag" (it has green eyes and emits feline yowls) to cushion their fall. The Ozians land at Red Top Mountain in the Quadling Country. The place's rightful ruler, Princess Azarine, has escaped the clutches of the usurper Bustado, who apprehends the Ozians. The villain sends the Wizard in search of Azarine, and holds the rest of the party hostage. Yet they escape, and meet up with the Wizard, Azarine, and her protectors, the great stag Shagomar and his wife Dear Deer. Together, the group reaches the palace of Glinda, though the sorceress is absent with Ozma. The Wizard uses Glinda's magic to combat the Stratovanian invasion.
Strut and his forces reach the Emerald City; the residents flee or hide. Strut tries to obtain the Magic Belt, but fails; the Wizard unites with Ozma and Glinda to prevent him. Ozma employs the Belt to send Strut's army home and foil his bid for conquest. She turns the usurper Bustado into a red squirrel; Azarine resumes her rightful place at Red Top Mountain, after she enjoys an Emerald City sojourn.
Thompson gives her protagonists some odd adversaries, including sky creatures called spikers that are something like iridescent floating octopi, and a large fierce bugbear that is half bear and half insect in form. (Neill doesn't even try to picture the thing.) And the author indulges in extravagant nonsensical tech talk, as with the Wizard's "elutherated altitude pills" and Glinda's "triple-edged, zentomatic transporter."
The publication of this book coincided with the release of the 1939 movie from MGM; and the book was shaped to "tie in" with the film. It is no accident that the phrase "the Wizard of Oz" occurs in the book's title. Thompson shaped her story for characters of the original book. This reversed her normal practice: in her later books, like the preceding The Silver Princess in Oz, she concentrated on her own new characters to the neglect of Baum's. Interestingly, Jellia Jamb becomes something like the star of the book (Thompson spells her name "Jam"). Jellia is in Baum's first Oz book, but is a minor and unnamed presence — and she is entirely absent from the film.
The idea of landscapes in the clouds, "castles in the air," cities and countries in the sky, can be found repeatedly in imaginative literature. Baum used it, most prominently in his Sky Island. Thompson features several sky countries in her Oz books, as with the Skyle of Un in The Cowardly Lion of Oz, and Atmos Fere's kingdom in The Hungry Tiger of Oz. Later Oz authors employ comparable materials, as with Hightown in Jack Snow's The Shaggy Man of Oz.
In Ozoplaning, Thompson exploits contemporary interest in aeronautics and atmospheric science. She plays with the new terms "stratosphere" and "troposphere." (Similarly, the 1939 film refers to "the outer stratosphere.") Instead of lemonade, the Stratovanians drink "air-ade" (a pun on "air raid"), as well as "liquid air." Thompson refers to Stratovania as an "airland" or "skyland," and places its altitude at 101,867 feet. The Strats control their climate, and keep it so benign that they live in tents and canopies rather than more substantial buildings.
Thompson describes her skyland in glowing terms:
- Jellia saw a country of such dazzling beauty, she was almost afraid to breathe lest it vanish before her eyes. The trees were tall and numerous, with gleaming, prism-shaped trunks and a mass of cloudlike foliage. Some bore fruit that actually seemed to be illuminated — oranges, pears, and peaches glowing like decorated electric light bulbs! Moon and star flowers grew in great profusion, and in the distance caves and grottoes of purest crystal scintillated in the high noon sun.
The people of Stratovania are comparably impressive:
- The Airlanders were a head taller than even the Tin Woodman. Their hair grew straight up on end, sparkling and crackling with electricity in a really terrifying manner. Their eyes were star-shaped and shaded by long, silver lashes; the noses and mouths were straight and firm, the foreheads transparent. Some shone as from a hidden sun, while across the brows of others tiny black clouds chased each other in rapid succession. Watching their foreheads would be a good way, decided Jellia Jam, to find out whether they were pleased or angry.
Thompson's puns maintain the skyey theme. The newspaper Strut reads is a "morning star." His people live the "high life."
|Ruth Plumly Thompson's Oz books|